At a budget workshop Tuesday, the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council agreed to keep its property tax rate unchanged at 1.2 mills for the upcoming year. Due to a small drop in overall property values, that will bring in slightly less property tax revenue than last year.
The council also approved a sheriff’s budget at the same level as last year, $274,785, and approved a solid waste allocation of $220,500, with a $100-per-customer refund taken out of unassigned funds.
And, addressing a much-discussed issue, council members approved a method for residents on dirt roads to get open graded emulsified mix (OGEM) paving done by a petition process.
The $206,025 in ad valorem revenue will be $3,975 less than the $210,000 collected last year. The town will also take in $343,726 in utility taxes, $289,897 in state revenue sharing and half-cent sales tax, and $248,500 in franchise fees. With other, smaller revenues, the town’s total revenue estimate is $1,426,748.
Councilman Tom Goltzené pointed out that less than 20 percent of the total revenue will be from ad valorem taxes. “With the electrical utility tax and the FPL franchise fee, really twice as much money comes out of people’s electric bill as their tax bills,” he said.
Expenditures will include $254,635 for town management and a total of $630,869 for other government services.
Staff had transferred $225,000 from unassigned funds to the sanitation fund to give town customers some relief in a bad economy. Bill Underwood, head of the town’s contracted management firm, said the town had a good revenue year in 2011 and put $357,000 into undesignated net assets. To give some relief to residents, they put some in the solid waste fund and the rest into a capital improvements fund.
Vice Mayor Jim Rockett said he would like to provide relief to residents in the form of a sanitation refund. “I think it’s a great idea, but I’d like to do it so we could repeat it each year, not necessarily give away such a large chunk the first year,” Rockett said, suggesting $126,000, which would be $100 per customer for the town’s 1,260 clients.
“I’d like to plan to do it next year,” Rockett said. “I’m not going to try to guess when things are going to get better, but I’d like to think they are going to get better someday.”
Rockett suggested spreading out the surplus over the next several years. Town Manager Mark Kutney said the refund would not be sustainable over the long term.
Goltzené said he favored a rebate to residents and understood Rockett’s point on sustainability, but felt some of it might be put somewhere else.
Councilman Ron Jarriel said he favored taking it one year at a time. “We have a management team, and they’re one of the best,” he said. “The future, I think, is going to be very positive. This is one way to treat everybody equal.”
Councilman Ryan Liang said he liked the idea but was not sure about committing to do it more than one year.
Mayor Dave Browning said he liked the idea of planning the rebate for two years, and the council gave consensus to budget $126,000 for the coming year.
Other provisions in the budget include $150,000 to supplement Loxahatchee Groves Water Management District activities.
During public comment, Elise Ryan, a member of the town’s finance committee, encouraged council members to spend money on roads. “Nobody says lower taxes, they want better roads,” she said. “We have a significant balance that needs to be put to good use.”
Rockett made a motion to adopt the tax rate, which carried 5-0.
In other business:
• The council also approved a petition process for residents to request OGEM surfacing for dirt roads.
Rockett pointed out that there are many non-district dirt roads that are in poor condition. “Let’s put dirt roads up to snuff, then worry about OGEMing them,” he said.
Jarriel agreed that many dirt roads in town need better maintenance. “All they need to do is call and say they need a load of fill,” he said.
However, Jarriel pointed out that the item being discussed was a policy for residents to get road surfacing if they want it. “This has nothing to do with grading roads,” he said. “All I’m looking for is for a plan to be approved.”
Rockett said that he had no problem endorsing the surfacing policy but had brought maintenance of dirt roads up because council members were not discussing it.
Goltzené said the current policy of having residents on non-district dirt roads call for grading or other maintenance does not work.
“If you have to call, it’s because they are not doing their job,” he said.
LGWCD Administrator Clete Saunier said he and his staff are familiar with the condition of all the roads and agreed with Goltzené’s comments about being proactive rather than reactive. But, he said, the district’s policy is to wait for residents to call about non-district roads.
Rockett made a motion to approve the OGEM surfacing policy, which carried unanimously.
• The council also approved the sheriff’s contract, which will include additional services although the amount will remain the same, according to Lt. Steven Thibodeau, executive officer of contracts and permits for the PBSO. “The sheriff is willing to hold it the same,” he said.
The contract will provide 24-hour, seven-day coverage, which requires six deputies. Loxahatchee Groves will be its own zone, although deputies are authorized to leave the area to assist in other incidents.
The deputies will also have access to all the services available from the PBSO. “Your deputies are not alone,” Thibodeau said. “They will have plenty of resources available.”